Born in Vietnam in 1960, Vietnamese-American artist An-My Lê’s adolescence was marked by conflict. In Saigon, she grew up experiencing nightly mortar attacks and the daily presence of American soldiers. In 1975, the final year of the war, she and her family were among those airlifted to safety and they finally settled in the United States as political refugees.
An-My Lê graduated in biology from Stanford, before turning to photography, which she studied at Yale University. The recipient of many awards, including the prestigious MacArthur Genius Award (2012), she is widely recognised as one of the most significant photographers working in the world today.
This exhibition surveys four major series: peaceful scenes evocative of conflict, in Viêt Nam, (1994–1998); fictional scenes staged by hobbyist war re-enactors in Small Wars, (1999-2002); a film showing the American military training for the Iraq war in 29 Palms, (2003-2004); and the most comprehensive showing yet of Events Ashore (2005-2014), a magnum opus, ten years in the making, which depicts the US navy on missions across the globe. Also shown for the first time are drawings by An-My Lê inspired by images and texts engraved on replicas of zippo lighters owned by American troops in Vietnam.
Lê has consistently explored the myth and memory of war through photography and film. While her personal experience of conflict has shaped both her life and her artistic subject matter, Lê’s work transcends that personal story. She avoids simple representations and simple judgements about the US military machine, and, like many great photographers maintains a certain distance from her subject in order to create nuanced pictures. ‘My goal has been to... address issues of power and fragility. My intention is not to dictate a message. It is a call for perspective, not a call to action.’
The exhibition has been programmed to coincide with the centenary of the First World War, and will subsequently be presented at the Hasselblad Center, Gothenburg, Sweden (20 February – 17 May 2015). An-My Lê's work will be included in Tate Modern’s group exhibition Conflict, Time, Photography (26 November 2014 – 15 March 2014).
A new book, Events Ashore, published by Aperture to coincide with the exhibition, is available from the Gallery Shop.